Meet the rookies + a way too early 53-man roster projection

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With the 2018 Draft concluded, there have been plenty of hot takes regarding picks, draft day trades, and moves not made. The Chiefs draft has been analyzed extremely heavily, and grades from analysts has ranged from B’s to low C’s and D’s. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but is it possible that we’re being too hard on the Chiefs? It wouldn’t seem like it listening to most analysts,  but there’s a reason the team has won the division in consecutive years, despite their some of their best players (Eric Berry, Justin Houston) missing significant time. They’ve also drafted FOUR Pro Bowl rookies (Travis Kelce, Marcus Peters, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt), so maybe they’re doing something right, despite their so-so draft grades.

In his first run in free agency, it was clear what GM Brett Veach had in mind for the Chiefs. He wanted youth and speed, and didn’t hesitate to rid the team of bloated contracts of aging veterans. The addition of Sammy Watkins struck a surprisingly negative tune, despite the complete meltdown of the offense in the Wild Card round once Kelce was lost with a concussion. Adding a true WR2 was essential, and while the price might’ve been a little high, a healthy Watkins is a 1,000 yard receiver who only makes this offense more deadly. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens was brought in to replace the departed (and now Oakland Raider, PUKE) Derrick Johnson, who was an extreme liability last season against the run. Hitchens brings speed and toughness to the linebacking corps, and paired with Reggie Ragland, the Chiefs might finally have two quality inside backers.

Those two moves received the most hype, but it is the full scope of Veach’s offseason that would pave the way for the draft. Releasing Ron Parker and Tamba Hali while letting Bennie Logan, Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, and Kenneth Acker sign with other teams demonstrated a conscious effort to start the Chiefs defense with a clean slate. Like most of us, Veach saw a defense that had greatly declined over the last three seasons, and 2017 was the breaking point. Besides Houston and Berry, along Peters (who was traded to the Rams) and Chris Jones, the Chiefs defense has no true game-changers. Many of the men John Dorsey trotted out as starters were stop-gaps at best, and week in, week out liabilities at worse (think all three corners, Hali, and Johnson).

Even with the return of Dee Ford, the Chiefs pass rush lacks punch. Much of that can be credited to the coordinating of Bob Sutton, but it’s also not as if he’s been given a host of quality pass rushers. Last year’s second round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon still needs developing. Frank Zombo is a special teamer who saw way too many snaps on defense last season. To address it, the Chiefs traded up from No. 54 to pick Breeland Speaks, a DE from Ole Miss that will play both end and outside backer on defense (Veach said in his post-draft press conference that he envisions him as a backup at OLB, who will also play end on passing downs). While most pundits gave him a second or third round grade, when you watch him on tape you see a player with enthusiasm and passion. Pairing him with Houston and Ford means he’ll see plenty of one-on-one assignments, and he could cause havoc in a hurry.

Their next picks, DT Derrick Nnadi (Florida State) and LB Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson) continued to address a front seven that was nothing short of terrible much of the season. Nnadi offers little as a pass rusher, but the Chiefs won’t need him to be one if everything goes to plan. O’Daniel is not only a special teams ace, but dime linebacker – an undersized linebacker, who also posses skills of a safety. Expect him to play a hybrid role this year. After watching the Chiefs (stupidly) try and fail to stop the run with Daniel Sorensen playing dime safety/backer (mainly because Berry was out), hopefully this pick will allow the defense to remain creative without sacrificing strength.

The final three picks, Texas A&M safety Armani Watts, Central Arkansas corner Tremon Smith, and Tennessee defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie (son of Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie), address depth, although McKenzie (who will switch to guard in the pros) could be a sneaky pick to start with the departure of Zach Fulton and the incumbent status of Bryan Witzmann and Parker Ehinger. Watts made a host of big plays during his four-year collegiate stint, and should start opposite Eric Berry in 2018. This would also allow Sorensen to play more of a substitute/situational role, where he thrived in 2016. Chiefs fans might’ve been upset with the team waiting until the 6th round to address the corner spot, but I’m fairly optimistic regarding the secondary. Kendall Fuller is a quality corner, and a full offseason from Steven Nelson will help him get back on track after a disappointing sophomore season. Veteran David Amerson could have a Sean Smith-like effect, giving the Chiefs three potentially dominant corners. There’s also a chance they add a veteran before the start of the season.

Overall, I’d give the class a solid B+. I’m not sure how many may turn into studs, but I think Speaks and Nnadi could help transform the defense back into the threat it was in 2013 and 2014. Brett Veach has an additional benefit many GM’s didn’t have this year, and that is time. His job is secure, and he can rebuild the defense with patience rather than trying to haphazardly put together a superstar unit with a termination hanging over his head. We might not see the full effect of this draft until 2019, but that might be the point all along, and its a couple of years before you can really judge a draft class.

Additionally, the Chiefs brought in several undrafted free agents:

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The most notable players on this list are Ryan Hunter, who was the most sought after offensive lineman after the draft, choosing the Chiefs over seven others, Litton, who will compete for the third quarterback spot and darkhorses Bryan Pringle and Darrel Williams.

With the introduction of the new players, here’s our (me, Brian and Brandon) way too early attempt at projecting the 53-man roster:

Quarterback (3): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matt McGloin

Running back (3): Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams

Fullback (1): Anthony Sherman

Wide Receiver (6): Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, De’Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson

Tight end (4) : Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Tim Wright, Jace Amaro

Offensive Line (8):

  • LT: Eric Fisher
  • LG: Parker Ehinger
  • C: Mitch Morse
  • RG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif,
  • RT: Mitchell Schwartz
  • Reserves: OL Cameron Erving, G Khalil McKenzie, G/T Bryan Witzmann

Defensive end (3): Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Jarvis Jenkins

*Note: OLB Breeland Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon can also play DE

Nose Tackle (2): Xavier Williams, Derrick Nnadi

Outside Linebacker (5): Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Breeland Speaks, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Frank Zombo

Inside Linebacker (4): Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Terrance Smith, Ukeme Eligwe

LB/S (1): Dorian O’Daniel

Free Safety (3): Eric Berry, Daniel Sorenson, Leon MCQuay

Strong Safety (2): Amari Watts, Robert Golden

Corner (5): Kendall Fuller, David Amerson, Steven Nelson, Tremon Smith,  Keith Reaser

K (1): Harrison Butker

P (1): Dustin Colquitt

LS (1): James Winchester

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